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Jack Hanna

He’s seen on television presenting animal after animal to the hosts of Good Morning America; he introduces wild creatures to late night television’s wise guy, David Letterman; he shares bits of wildlife trivia with talk show host Larry King; he can be seen as the target of the wildlife kingdom’s lighter side on TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes and he can be seen sauntering around Zoo grounds in his familiar khaki safari gear, greeting guests and checking out the animal collection.

Jack Hanna, known to the animal world and the general public as "Jungle Jack," serves as an ambassador of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and has been promoting the efforts of this attraction for 20 years.

It all began after an extensive search for a new Zoo director in 1978 The Columbus Zoo Board of Trustees, together with Melvin B. Dodge, then director of Columbus Parks and Recreation, chose Jack Hanna, a 31-year-old native of Tennessee. Hanna’s past experience included starting his own pet shop and petting zoo, working for a wildlife adventure company and serving as director of a small zoo in Florida.

When Hanna arrived in Columbus with his wife Suzi and their three daughters, attendance at the Columbus Zoo was close to 360,000 annually. Over the years he transformed the Zoo into a model facility, increased attendance to more than 1.4 million in 1992, and earned worldwide recognition for the Zoo through his regular appearances on nationally televised programs including "Good Morning America," "The Late Show With David Letterman" and "Larry King Live."

In addition to his guest appearances, Hanna also is the star of his own nationally syndicated program "Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures" which reaches 96 percent of United States television households and 62 foreign countries. Six publications can also be added to his list of achievements including his autobiography, "Monkeys On the Interstate" and several children’s books.

Hanna acted as Executive Director of the Columbus Zoo until 1992, when he was promoted to Director Emeritus. Still serving in this position, he continues to travel and promote the Zoo locally, nationally and internationally.

Hanna said that his first years were a trying time and had him wearing many hats.

"Well, back in the early days, probably parking cars and trying to cook hot dogs at the same time," he said when asked to describe some of the challenges he faced. "But a bigger challenge was to convince the people of central Ohio that the Zoo was just as important as other public facilities and programs."

Although there were formidable tasks in those formative years when Hanna first arrived, he looks back on those years with fondness. During that time he made some of his favorite memories, which include riding around the Zoo after closing with his family, picking up trash and witnessing the improved gorilla habitat.

"The opening of the gorilla exhibit has to be one of my favorite memories," he said. "It was an old building that previously held elephants and then kangaroos. Seeing the gorillas walk outside onto green grass for the first time was very, very exciting!"

Headkeeper of the Shores region Yvonne Clippinger and North America Region Manager Bill Cupps both remember Hanna’s arrival and his enthusiasm for his position.

"He was everywhere," Clippinger said. "Every morning he’d drive his car on Zoo grounds, he’d make his rounds and see everyone and check out the animals. He was here, there and everywhere."

Cupps recalled an instance in which Hanna was so eager to move forward on the gorilla habitat that early one morning, he made a surprise visit to the foot of Cupps’ bed and riled him out of bed yelling, "You can’t sleep, we have to put the bars up in the gorilla habitat." Cupps followed his boss to the Zoo but first told his wife, who had never met Hanna, that this new director would never last.

Despite his zealous nature both Clippinger and Cupps credit Hanna for his confidence in his keepers.

"He believed in the keeper and what the keeper was doing," Clippinger said. "If you showed dedication or creativity and the animals were well cared for and healthy, Jack let the keeper do their own thing and be as creative as they wanted to be."

Cupps agreed that Hanna’s support contributed to better keeper performance which resulted in an improved Zoo.

"The freedom that Jack gave the keepers, letting us do our own thing, gave us the feeling of being part of the Zoo which made us more productive," Cupps said. "We were able to actually do our jobs and that has helped make the Zoo what it is today."

Making the public aware of the Zoo and getting them to come out to visit as well as putting animals in naturalistic habitats are accomplishments that Clippinger also attributes to Hanna.

"When I first started here, before Jack arrived, there were no visitors," she said. "Jack went out there and did the PR that the Zoo needed. He also got the animals into habitats and out of the menagerie-like atmosphere with cages."

These changes may all relate to Jack’s first impression of the Zoo.

"The Zoo entrance back then was right near the tunnel. Nothing wrong with that location, but it looked like the entrance to a state prison with a chain-linked fence and unkept grounds!"

During his years at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Hanna has promoted a visitor-friendly facility and eliminated cage-like exhibits. In fact he believes that the Zoo’s structure and appearance is the most noticeable difference since his arrival 20 years ago.

"The biggest change to me is the physical layout and tremendous expansion that has taken place," he said. "When I arrived, the Pachyderm Building and Herbivore/Carnivore Complex were the only two exhibits on the east side of the tunnel, and the west side contained many old buildings and exhibits that are nowhere to be found in today’s beautiful Zoo. The acquisition of the additional land south of the Zoo, the North America exhibit, Discovery Reef, and now the West African Exhibit and the new Pachyderm areas have been excellent additions."

Hanna, now 54, became excited about working in a zoo when he was 12 and working for a veterinarian who often worked at the Knoxville Zoo. He plans to stay active in the animal and zoo world into the distant future.

He currently travels all over the world filming 26 episodes of "Animal Adventures," does public appearances and speaking engagements at zoos throughout the country and appears on "Good Morning America," "Maury Povich," "Late Night With David Letterman," and "Larry King Live." He also spends time at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

"After helping the Zoo’s effort to pass the next tax levy in 2005, I’ll probably spend a little more time in Montana," he said. "I’ll continue to promote the Columbus Zoo, consult with other zoos, and do speaking engagements."

To date, his proudest achievement has been "bringing together the citizens of central Ohio, the city of Columbus and Franklin County to support the Zoo."


Jack Hanna's resume
Professional experience
Director Emeritus, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Columbus, Ohio 1992-Present
Executive Director, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Columbus, Ohio 1978-1992
Director, Central Florida Zoo, Sanford, Florida, 1973-1975

Media experience
Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures, nationally syndicated program which reaches 96% of television households in the United States and 62 foreign countries, 1993-present.
Good Morning America, regularly featured guest and wildlife correspondent, 1983-present.
Late Night with David Letterman, regularly featured guest, 1985-present.
Larry King Live, regularly featured guest, 1988-present.
Maury Povich Show, regularly featured guest, 1996-present.
Other numerous appearances on: The Nashville Network, The Discovery Channel, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon
What Zoo Keepers Do, Scholastic, 1998
Jack Hanna's Ultimate guide to Pets, Putnam Publishing, 1996
Jack Hanna's Pocketful of Bugs, Scholastic, 1996
Jungle Jack Hanna's Safari Adventure, Scholastic, 1996
Let's go to the Petting Zoo with Jungle Jack, Doubleday Books, 1991
Monkeys on the Interstate, Doubleday Books, 1988
Bachelor of Arts, Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio
Honorary Doctor of Science, Otterbein College, Westerville, Ohio
Honorary Doctor of Science, Capital University, Bexley, Ohio
Honorary Doctor of Science, Scholastic, Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio


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